Grain News


DeBruce Hit with Lawsuits

Date Posted: June 22, 1999

DeBruce Grain Inc., North Kansas City, MO, this month has been hit with several lawsuits in connection with the June 8, 1998, explosion at its terminal elevator at Haysville, KS, that killed seven workers and injured 10 others, according to reports compiled from the Wichita Eagle newspaper.

Early this month, attorneys for Roger Heath, an employee for Industrial Maintenance Inc., Wichita, a contractor that was performing work at the elevator at the time of the explosion, filed suit in federal district court in Wichita, alleging that Heath suffered hearing loss and traumatic stress disorder at the time of the blast. Later, the attorneys filed a similar suit in Sedgwick County District Court, a state court in Wichita.

The lawsuits charge that DeBruce failed to control levels of grain dust, properly grease conveyor belt bearings, and enforce rules against smoking. According to the lawsuit, Heath had been in the elevator's headhouse shortly before a series of blasts swept through the structure, damage the headhouse heavily. The suit alleges that Heath had left to get a part and was in the break room when the explosion occurred. The suit seeks damages in excess of $50,000.

"He's terrified to back in elevators any more," Attorney Tamara Collins told the Eagle. "He's worked in grain elevators all over the state, and this was one of the worst he's ever been in as far as dust."

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has proposed $1.7 million in fines against DeBruce and the Justice Department is investigating whether to file criminal charges.

DeBruce Grain, for its part, is contesting the fines and saying that it is not at fault. "He (Heath) is basing most of this on the OSHA claims, which we feel very confident are contrary to the facts," said Dennis McCulloch, a DeBruce spokesman. "Itas just another example of what's going to happen until we get more of the facts out."

OSHA has refused to relese the report on its investigation until the Justice Department decides whether or not to file criminal charges.

Meanwhile, in another development, attorneys for four relatives of workers killed in the blast, two injured workers, and one injured truck driver who was waiting to unload grain when the elevator exploded, filed suit last week in Sedgwick County District Court last week, naming both DeBruce Grain and Industrial Maintenance as defendants.

The lawsuit charged DeBruce Grain with failure to control grain dust levels and Industrial Maintenance for "failure to perform maintenance, repairs, and renovation services at the grain elevator in an appropriate manner." The suit requests damages in excess of $75,000 for each plaintiff.

This lawsuit was filed on behalf of Gloria Rosas and Roland Najera, wife and son of Noel Najera, who died in the explosion; Claudia and Saul Ortiz, wife and son of Jose Ortiz, also killed; Darryl Williams, described as recovering from severe burns; Steven Stallbaurner, described as "suffering severe mental and psychological injuries;" and Raymond Hamilton, a truck driver described as suffering permanent disability and emotional distress.

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